An Open Letter to the College Board on AP: World History

Peter Wood

The College Board revised two of its Advanced Placement history exams in recent years—United States History and European History. The National Association of Scholars (NAS) formulated analyses of how progressive bias affected these revised exams. NAS also spearheaded two national campaigns to have the College Board eliminate this political skew. In both cases the College Board changed the exam for the better, although the NAS judges that significant bias remains.

The College Board recently announced, apparently as a result of pressure by activist teachers, that it will extend the coverage of its revised Advanced Placement World History exam from ca. 1450 AD to the present to ca. 1200 AD to the present. The College Board also announced that it will add a second World History examination, covering the period before ca. 1200 AD.

We now publish this open letter from NAS President Peter Wood to David Coleman, President of the College Board.


                                August 1, 2018

David Coleman, President

College Board

250 Vesey Street

New York, NY 10281

Dear Mr. Coleman,

The College Board recently announced that it will add a second World History examination, covering the period before 1200 AD.

We are committed to offering a second AP world history course—AP World History: Ancient. To develop an AP World History: Ancient course, exam, and accompanying resources, we first must confirm the willingness of colleges to award credit for an additional AP world history exam and the interest among high schools to offer two full, separate AP world history courses.

The College Board’s announcement confirms that it has the will and the resources to add an additional Advanced Placement history examination. We, therefore, call on the College Board to create a predecessor course, exam, and accompanying resources for its AP European History examination, to cover Ancient and Medieval Europe, from ca. 500 BC to ca. 1450 AD. We also call on the College Board to create and release this exam no later than it creates and releases its proposed AP World History: Ancient examination.

Europe’s rich history from ancient Greece to the beginning of the Renaissance is well worth study by any high school student interested in history, since it is the major source of modern America’s ideals, thought, and culture. Practically speaking, an AP European History: Ancient and Medieval will help prepare students for college, since nearly all American colleges offer the equivalent survey class. The course would especially help the College Board to reach out to the growing market of high school students educated at home, in classical schools, and in Christian schools—many of whom are especially interested in ancient and medieval European history.

The College Board should also create this test to correct the unfortunate and serious gaps in students’ historical knowledge that have been produced by testing them only on the centuries of European history since ca. 1450. Among these gaps are:

  1. Students do not learn about the coherent connections that form Western civilization—how the synthesis of Greece and Israel came together in Imperial Rome, and from there formed the medieval Christendom that is the matrix of modern Europe and America.

  2. Students do not learn about the ancient intellectual complex—Greek philosophy, Jewish religion, Roman law—that is the major source of all later Western thought.

  3. Students do not learn about the importance of Christianity—above all, of medieval Catholicism—in the making of the Western mind.

  4. Students do not learn about the importance of Roman and English law in the making of medieval Europe.

  5. Students do not learn about the military, political, and cultural making of medieval Europe, from Charlemagne to Joan of Arc.

  6. Students do not learn about the military and technological revolutions of medieval Europe that made possible Europe’s later imperial conquests around the world.

  7. Students do not learn about the distinctiveness of Western feudalism, which gave us a system of private property unlike that of any other civilization.

  8. Students do not learn about the deep roots of the nations of Europe—the England of Alfred, the France of Charles Martel, the Russia of Vladimir the Great.

  9. Students do not learn about the social and cultural variations between the different regions of Europe, which have endured through centuries of “modernization.”

  10. Students do not learn about the social, cultural, and legal distinctiveness of England, from which Americans have inherited a thousand years of increasing freedom.

The College Board’s current abbreviated coverage of ancient and medieval European history in its World History exam tears apart the coherent narrative of European history, and does not provide sufficient depth to cover ancient and medieval European history properly. Even the increased coverage that will be available if and when the College Board produces an AP World History: Ancient examination will still be insufficient—and it will be provided at the expense of more in-depth coverage of Chinese, Indian, and Islamic history. The attempt to cover both European and non-European history in one examination cannot do justice to either subject.

We are confident that there is enough demand nationwide to support the creation of an AP European History: Ancient and Medieval examination. In 2016, the AP offered exams in a large number of subjects with low student enrollment—Japanese (2,481), Italian (2,774), German (4,945), Studio Art - 3D Design (5,051), Latin (6,584), Chinese (12,524), Studio Art—Drawing (18,407), and Music Theory (18,971). European History attracted 109,031. If the College Board offered AP European History: Ancient and Medieval, we are positive that it would get at least as much enrollment as Music Theory.

We also call on the College Board not to rely on a narrow range of progressive scholarship, but to construct AP European History: Ancient and Medieval with the assistance of eminent scholars of European history from a wide range of historiographical schools. The College Board should frame the examination around the scholarship and counsel of figures such as Victor Davis Hanson (ancient Greek and military history), Warren Treadgold (Byzantine and intellectual history), and Rachel Fulton Brown (Latin West and religious history).

The College Board can and should take up the challenge to create an advanced placement examination of ancient and medieval European history. By doing so it will make a great stride toward fulfilling its responsibility to provide the American people rigorous, comprehensive, and useful assessments of students’ ability to do college-level work.

Respectfully yours,

Peter Wood


National Association of Scholars

Photo: Creative Commons

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